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Students launch High Court challenge against 'savage' cuts to grants

The Union of Students in Ireland says students could not have expected grants to be slashed by up to 60 per cent.

Ruairí Quinn signs a USI pre-election pledge not to cut student grants, or raise fees, in government.
Ruairí Quinn signs a USI pre-election pledge not to cut student grants, or raise fees, in government.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE HIGH COURT has granted the national union of third-level students leave to challenge a reform of student grants, which will see around 25,000 students face cuts of over 60 per cent in their grants this year.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has been granted a judicial review of changes in the Student Grant Scheme proposed in last year’s Budget, which reformed the rules governing how far a student must live from college in order to receive a higher rate of payment.

The last Budget replaced the 15-mile threshold with a new one of 45 kilometres – with the previous government claiming that improvements to public transport made it more feasible to commute to college from long distances.

USI claims, however, that this is not the case – and that 25,000 current students affected by the move are facing unmanageable cuts of over 60 per cent in their grants as a result.

The High Court heard that current students could not legitimately have expected their grants to be cut by so much. For students entitled to the largest grant payments, which are based on household income, grants will be cut from €6,100 down to €2,445 as a result of the new boundary changes.

USI president Gary Redmond told TheJournal.ie that the previous government had encouraged many mature students to return to college – and that the cuts would force many of those students back out of education, at a time when they would not get back into the jobs market.

The biggest victims of this cut are students from the most financially disadvantaged backgrounds, who are trying to get a fresh start at education. [...]

It’s another example of disjointed policies, as the government tries to promote upskilling while the Minister for Education effectively stops students from going back to college.

It is understood that around 7,000 of the students affected by the change are mature students over the age of 23.

Test cases

USI is taking a number of test cases as part of its legal action, including one example where a student has effectively been forced out of college entirely.

The cut in her grant means she can no longer afford to live in Galway, where she studies – but public transport from her native Clare means she cannot make it to college until after 11am each morning.

Redmond said that while students understood the country’s financial problems, and were willing to share the pain of general spending cuts – with grants cut by ten per cent across the board over the last two years – but that a cut of 60 per cent was “unprecedented, savage and unfair”.

Justice Michael Peart this afternoon granted a full hearing for the case, which will be heard in October – meaning the changes will remain in effect for the beginning of the forthcoming academic year at least.

USI’s legal action does not affect the thresholds for incoming college students, who will have known about the new thresholds since December.

Education minister Ruairí Quinn has previously told the Dáil that while he opposed the changes brought in under the last government, the State’s financial position meant he was not in a position to change them.

In February, days before the general election, Quinn signed a pledge promising not to increase student fees or cut higher education grants if he was appointed to the government.

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